LOOKING BACK AT 2013: 'A work in progress'
The last half-decade has been an occasionally choppy time at the top of Lee County Schools.
One superintendent resigned amidst rumors and his replacement, while frequently honored by peers across the state, was at times a polarizing figure locally and eventually left for a higher salary in another state. But the current leader of the public school system — the third person to hold the job since January 2009 — has made open and improved dialogue a hallmark of his first months in office.
Andy Bryan served as second-in-command to former Superintendent Jeff Moss for about five years, rising to the helm this summer after Moss moved to Hilton Head, S.C. to lead the county school system there.
Moss, a former construction teacher who rose through the ranks of administration, was twice named the Superintendent of the Year in the Sandhills region in his four years in Lee County. But he also at times was at the center of controversy, including an outburst at a 2012 political forum in which he allegedly used foul language.
Bryan is more soft-spoken, employing a big-tent philosophy to leadership in which he actively sought advice and opinions from people inside and outside the school system. He said he was glad to have spoken with a large variety of leaders in education, business, politics and other fields during his first semester in charge of the district.
"It continues to be a work in progress, I think," Bryan said of his transition into the superintendent's position. "I want to continue to work with the community to get input."
Asked about the hardest part of his job, Bryan will only say that he wishes the day were longer. He's surrounded by people who make his job easier, he said, and he likes it that way. When Bryan was originally hired this summer, there was some disagreement on the Lee County Board of Education about whether to hire internally or look nationally for a candidate. But Dr. Lynn Smith, chairman of the school board, said he's now very pleased with the direction the board chose.
"I think it was an absolutely great decision," Smith said. "It's been a pleasure to watch him work the past six months, and he has exceeded my expectations."
Smith said Bryan had a good plan to involve the whole school board in the nitty-gritty details of running the district, as well as getting wide-ranging community feedback. But to actually watch how it all came together, he said, has been impressive.
"He has just brought everybody into the process, and I think that's a great way to do it," Smith said.
Smith said his main hope for the immediate future of Lee County Schools is to bring up test scores by increasing the rigor demanded of students. Bryan said he wants to see every student graduate with both a high school diploma as well as another credential or set of skills that can be put to use immediately in the real world.
Bryan said he will continue his outreach mission — in fact, he's holding a meet-and-greet event at 5:30 p.m. at East Lee Middle School on Jan. 13 — and that so far, he's feeling pretty good about his future and the future of Lee County Schools.
"I'm very grateful to be superintendent in Lee County," he said. "I think we have a great community, a great school district and a very strong very board of education."